Remember Nerf? The brand behind those foam footballs and dart guns. Well, it’s back on holiday wish lists this year and sales are surging.
The 45-year-old brand, which has long appealed to boys ages 6 to 14, recently won over girls with a bow-style Nerf blaster that channeled pop culture heroines like The Hunger Games’s Katniss Everdeen. And this year, it recruited another new following—teens—with a toy that falls somewhere between a BB gun and a Nerf blaster. Called the Rival, the gun shoots small foam balls the size of a marble with better accuracy and nearly twice the speed of a regular blaster.
Reaching new audiences while introducing new products like the Nerf N-Strike Modulus—a customizable blaster with scopes and other add-ons that’s billed as one of this season’s hottest toys—has helped reignite the demand for Nerf.
“Coming out with new models every year is working really well for them,” Juli Lennett, US toys analyst at NPD Group, told Quartz. “They shoot farther, they are bigger, they have more ammunition.”
The Hasbro-owned brand, which saw sales sag beginning in 2011, is on pace for a record year in terms of revenue and profits, CEO Brian Goldner told investors last month. When Quartz inquired, Hasbro declined to reveal the actual forecast. Retail sales—a Hasbro measurement that captures 80% of the US market and varying portions of international markets—were up 25% from a year ago as of November, Goldner said in the investor presentation.
This is all in spite of new competition from larger rival Mattel, which broke into the blaster market with its BoomCo line last year.
With Mattel on its heels, Hasbro was “forced to be more aggressive,” senior Euromonitor analyst Mykola Golovko told Quartz. “Before 2014, there was really not much competition within the market.”
Having been around since 1969, Nerf’s legacy in the toy gun market also gives it a leg up over new entrants—parents remember Nerf from childhood and trust the brand. “Nerf has been in business for [more than] 30 years and that brand has quite a bit of cross-generational appeal,” said Golovko.
The market for toy guns has gotten a lift this year from the broader outdoor and sports toy category, which is up nearly 3% in the US this year, according to Euromonitor. That’s because parents are eager to draw their children away from screens. “Anything that encourages [kids] to move around is going to do pretty well,” said Golovko.
Blasters aren’t just for kids anymore either. The brand has a cult-like following among some adults who grew up playing with the toy guns. A fan group in the Bay Area of California has amassed hundreds of blasters and regularly hosts games of Nerf tag with about a dozen players.
About.com’s Nerf expert Paul Mindemann told Quartz, “you’ve got this confluence of different things happening” that are propping up the Nerf brand. “You’ve got nostalgia, empowerment, the social component, constant innovation, marketing, and new categories being opened. It’s also cheap enough to be accessible to a wide range of audiences and it’s not gonna be outdated in six months,” he said. (New Nerf guns run between $6 and $50, depending on the model.)
Over the last decade, the company has aggressively grown Nerf from a $40 million American toy line to a global name that brings in about $400 million a year, according to Michael Ritchie, vice president of global marketing for Nerf. Ritchie at Hasbro, who declined to reveal actual sales figures and forecasts. That’s nearly 10% of the toymaker’s overall revenue. Nerf began its global expansion in Europe, where the toy market most-closely resembled that of the US, and then scaled out to 120 countries across North America, Europe, Latin America and Asia-Pacific.
Today, half of Nerf sales come from outside of the US, according to Hasbro.